Thursday, 13 October 2011

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Men who buy sex are driving force behind AIDS epidemic in Asia: report

A new report, ‘Redefining AIDS in Asia: Crafting an Effective Response’, says that since most men who buy sex are married or are about to get married, significantly “low-risk” women who only have sex with their husbands are exposed to the virus.

Men who buy sex, most of them from “mainstream” society, are the single most powerful driving force in Asia’s HIV epidemic and constitute the largest infected population group, according to a report on HIV/AIDS by an independent body.

‘Redefining AIDS in Asia: Crafting an Effective Response’, brought out by the Independent Commission on AIDS in Asia, and sponsored by UNAIDS, Unicef and UNDP, says that since most men who buy sex are married or are about to get married, significantly “low-risk” women who only have sex with their husbands are exposed to the virus.

Pooling recent calculations from various Asian countries, the commission estimates that up to 10 million Asian women sell sex and at least 75 million men buy it regularly. Male-male sex and drug injecting add another 20 million or so to the number of men at high risk of HIV infection once the virus enters the network.

Unprotected paid sex, sharing of contaminated needles and syringes by injecting drug users and sex between men and men are thus the most important causes of the spread of AIDS in Asian countries, the report adds. A portion of those men, particularly injectors, may also pass HIV on to the women with whom they have regular sex, which means that several more women are at risk. By pragmatically focusing prevention programmes on the sex trade and on drug use, says the report, governments could make considerable progress in halting and reversing the HIV epidemic.

Experts found that existing resources are not only inadequate but are currently not being spent on priority interventions that produce an impact. The commission estimates the resource need of the region to halt and reverse the epidemic at $ 3.1 billion per annum. For a long-lasting and comprehensive response, however, the resource need is $ 6.4 billion a year.

The report goes on to say that because relatively few women in Asia have sex with more than one partner, the chain of HIV infection tends to end once the wives and girlfriends among them become infected. Some, however, might transmit HIV to their unborn or newborn infants. The probability of these women passing HIV onto another man is generally very small.

Releasing the report in India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for an attitudinal change towards people living with HIV/AIDS. He said strategies for tackling the virus required more inclusive and less judgmental social approaches to questions of public health and personal hygiene.

“If we have to win this fight against HIV/AIDS we have to create a more tolerant social environment. One need not condone socially unacceptable or medically inadvisable sexual practices in seeking a more tolerant approach to the problem. It is in the interests of the entire society that everyone afflicted with AIDS wins the battle against it. They deserve and have the right to live lives of dignity,” he said.

Dr Singh added that target intervention projects taken up with the focus on vulnerable populations were useful and necessary. This should be accompanied by more broad-based educational programmes. Modern sex education at appropriate school stages was of great value, he said.

The report warns that an estimated 8 million Asians are likely to be infected with HIV by 2020, for many countries are lagging behind in their response to AIDS. By then, it is expected that AIDS will claim an estimated 500,000 lives annually if governments do not change their policies. India accounts for roughly half the estimated HIV-infected population of Asia, with 2.5 million Indians living with HIV in 2006. At the same time, the report notes, India has managed to slow down the epidemic in some states, including Tamil Nadu, which provide an effective and focused HIV response.

Source: www.expressindia.com, July 8, 2008
           The Hindu, July 2, 2008
         thaindian.com, June 30, 2008
        www.saathi.org, July 2008